In case you didn’t know, this blog is named after Anne Boleyn. I’ve been reading about her since I was just a kid, and I think she’s one of the most interesting and influential historical figures ever. When I first learned everything there was to know about her, there was one thing that still remained a mystery: did she write a letter to her husband and king, Henry VIII, right before she died?
There’s a letter that’s commonly said to have been written by Anne, but historians are still fighting about whether or not it’s a forgery. It’s said to be one of the best-written letters in the English language, and it’s totally sassy. Basically, the letter accuses Henry of wanting to get rid of Anne just because he was lusting after another woman, and Anne refuses to confess to a crime she didn’t commit. It’s saucy stuff. Read the whole thing here, and be amazed.
So, given that there’s a lot of myth surrounding Anne, Sandra Vasoli, the author of the faux autobiography about Anne, Je Anne Boleyn, decided to do a lot of research about the letter and tried to prove it was authentic. The result was the e-book Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower: A New Assessment. It’s sort of complicated to parse, but allow me to say that despite the effort Vasoli puts into trying to convince the reader that Anne did write the letter, I’m still not convinced.
If you’re any kind of fan of history, you know how easy it is to think you know historical figures as if they were people living today, like they’re friends. It’s also easy to fall into thinking that people from history thought and acted like we do. Actually, it’s the complete opposite. History is so freaking complicated because culture varies so drastically even in the span of 50 years. How are we supposed to understand the motives and passions of people who lived in the 16th century? It may as well be a different planet. For lack of a better term, 16th century people (and most historical figures) are complete aliens.
Even though I did enjoy reading some new insight into Anne’s letter, it’s clear from the book Sandra wrote that just because she wants to believe Anne wrote it, she skews her argument in that angle. The book isn’t really convincing because instead of providing new evidence and refuting older arguments, all she does is trace the possible movement of the letter hypothetically from Anne’s hands to where it sits now, in fragments at the British Library.
So many questions are still left infuriatingly unanswered, and the small amounts of evidence Vasoli uses to answer these questions are insufficient. Like, if Anne didn’t write the letter, who did, and why?
I enjoyed reading this book but it left me with even more questions than before. This is why it’s so hard to study history: because we get emotionally attached to historical figures (obviously, I do too!) and then we can’t study it objectively. But as long as there is literature about Anne Boleyn and new things to discover, I’ll be waiting to buy it all, read it all, and learn a little bit more.